Movie Review: Lizzie Borden Took An Axe (2014)

This Lifetime TV movie biopic on the legendary Lizzie Borden tried and acquitted for the 1892 murders of her parents is surprisingly hip and adorable.

The cast helps. Horror alum Christina Ricci (Addams Family, Cursed, Sleepy Hollow) plays Lizzie. Clea Duvall (“American Horror Story”, Helter Skelter, The Grudge) plays her sister Emma. Her mother and father are played by Sara Botsford (Tremors 4) and Stephen McHattie (“The Strain”, Septic Man).

The soundtrack helps as well, there are adorable indie tunes scattered about in a similar vein to Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. 

It brings modernization in a low key way that a modern remake never could. It makes the snafus -use of electric lighting, appearance of telephone poles- seem less foolish.

Budding sociality and bratty rich girl can’t get a new dress for a dance.

She was acquitted, mainly because it was inconceivable to a jury that a woman could commit murder with an axe.

So, there’s that.

Lizzie Borden is such a notorious figure. Ricci does an outstanding job portraying the immature sociality and the movie is aesthetically and auditorily pleasing. Overall, an awesome retelling.

3.75/5

Movie Review: Houses October Built (2014)

real documentary about 5 friends who set out to uncover the culture of underground haunted houses. Brandy Schaefer, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, Zack Andrews and Jeff Larsen are longtime friends who set out in an RV to 9 different haunts. Interviews are not scripted or manipulated in anyway, and the truth is more horrifying than the lie in this flick. People running haunted horror events notoriously don’t run background checks… some of the things participants say are down right deviant and terrifying. There are multiple actual news reports related about people dying in haunted houses while pranking their friends and no one knows until long after the night’s over.

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The crew travels across Texas in search of the most frightening events October has to offer. Along the way, they hit up all types of attractions (including zombie paintball) …and then they go in search of the Holy Grail of underground haunts but get more than they bargained for from locals.

Interestingly enough, this film was fascinating on it’s own. It won FearNET’s Shocker Award in 2011. Sadly, this project fell by the wayside for a while. The producers behind the Insidious films and Paranormal Activity decided that what it needed was a little mockumentary flair.

…and it works.

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I don’t know that it needed it; but it is well acted enough that the scripted portions fit well with the various interviews, news reports and first person filmings in dingy fake blood coated halls. It adds another dimension to the film that I hadn’t seen coming. I’m also not totally clear when it started. Brandy, the lone female, has an altercation with male hillbillies in a public bathroom. Mikey has an argument with locals that gets them run out of town. They pick up a bizarre hitch hiker. These brief elements break up the chatty drives in the sun on the long trek from destination to destination. So when things get more serious… it’s difficult to know what to believe. Is this a practical joke? Have they found the haunt they are looking for? Or are they facing deranged lunatics?

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A great look at extreme haunted houses and intense and escalating subculture surrounding haunted events …with a little Hollywood panache.

5/5

This film is out in select theaters and on itunes on Friday 10/10.

Brandy Schaefer will be on WCUW’s Radio Of Horror on Sunday.

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Movie Review: Devil Incarnate (2013)

Graci Carli stars (sort of) as a woman named Holly who has recently married. Her husband is played by Rod Luzzi. And they are a typical young couple ….who get cursed while on their honeymoon and Holly ends up pregnant with the child of Satan.

Emily Rogers plays Holly’s sister in law, Marissa. She’s queer and adorkable and video tapes everything like Wes Bentley did in American Beauty. Bafflingly; There are no pictures of her on the internet.

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Usually the “devil baby” plotline is a deal breaker. It’s over done. While that’s still true, the characters are far less annoying than their counterparts in other films. The focus shifts from Holly to Marissa early in the film, Trevor isn’t blind to the horrors that his wife is experiencing because of the chance to grow his progeny. Marissa is the first to notice that Holly is behaving oddly -from seducing Marissa and yelling at her in Latin, to making sexual advances towards Trevor’s father.

For reasons unknown, Marissa captures most of this on film. The sheer volume of memory cards required is irrational.

But Marissa’s odd fixation with Holly and her retelling of increasingly strange events to her pre-law BFFL on Skype is charming.

And no one says anything ridiculous like “We have to save the baby !!!!!!!!!!1” when Holly really starts becoming dangerous. Trevor and Marissa head back to the site of the honeymoon, Cassa Dega, to rectify the situation.

The plot doesn’t make as much sense as it could. The reason Holly is carrying the devil spawn is because she was cursed by an old woman, the curse had come to a family after years of infertility. It is revealed that Holly was adopted but the implications weren’t clear to me.

Everyone in the film is relatively unknown and I think that it’s helpful in this case. Found footage movies are just plain everywhere lately and I’m not sure that much was added by having Marissa be a nerd with a camera except aside from an excuse to use edgy camera angles and bad lighting.

3/5

Movie Review: Burke and Hare (2010)

This is a horror-comedy directed by John Landis (no one does this genre better) and starring Simon Pegg (who has found his forte in horror comedy, as well). It’s set in Victorian London, a setting that has found recent popularity again in the genre with NBC’s “Dracula”, Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” …but this is more reminiscent of Sweeney Todd than any classic monster mash.

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Burke (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Fantastic Fear of Everything) and Hare (Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) are two Irish immigrants living in London who can not find suitable work. They stumble on a profitable venture after trying to dispose of the corpse of another resident at their rooming house and they find that selling cadavers to a medical school could be quite profitable. Only, a good corpse is hard to find, and they become increasingly more desperate and ridiculous in their venture. Burke, for his part, isn’t that gung-ho about their scheme until he meets Ginny Hawkins (Isla Fisher) -a former sex worker looking for financial backing for an all women production of Macbeth.

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Burke becomes taken with her and their increasingly bizarre killing spree ramps up.

The find themselves in danger when the corpses become recognizable and the medical professor is confronted.

Some of this is based on a 16 victim killing spree in West Port in the 19th century, that much is true. The real story is much more macabre, Burke and Hare were found out and turned in by Burke’s lover, the duo found lure people in, get them drunk and suffocate them.

Slapstick murder, increasingly wild schemes and cover ups, naive lovers and neighbors, and a soundtrack and costuming that doesn’t try too hard at realism and atmosphere. It’s nearly perfect and I’m not sure why this film isn’t more popular.

That being said: all the women are side characters or motivation for the men. Not that they are quite 2-D… but they are not much more and there are virtually no PoC characters even in the background.

4/5

Movie Review: Night of The Creeps (1986)

There’s something so pleasing to me about 80’s cheese horror. I don’t know if it reminds me of shite my babysitters used to let me watch or if it’s just the overall aesthetic, frequent partial nudity, the inevitable jock vs. nerd duality,or the awesome female characters who always seem to pop up.

In this CLASSIC film, directed by Fred Dekker (Monster Squad, Robocop 3) we flashback to 1959 on Sorority Row. Masterfully pulled off in black and white. It’s only slightly tongue in cheek when a blonde bombshell out for a ride with her date, Johnny. Johnny hears a noise and goes to investigate. Which is where the alien brainslug turns him into a murderous zombie.

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In 1986, two dweebs pledging a fraternity so that a former Griswold can have a chance with his dream girl find the cryogenically frozen corpse of Johnny. The are supposed to dump to corpse on the steps of another fraternity. Instead, they freak out- but still unthaw the corpse and the brainslug is passed on to a new host and soon the whole campus is in peril ..and so is Chris’s dream girl. The original zombie peeps on Cynthia and Det. Cameron is called in. Cameron (Tom Atkins, who is is still making films and starred in 1951’s Thing From Another World) had helped take down a zombie axemurderer in 1959.

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Tongue in cheek nods abound to horror greats throughout the film, including the character’s names. Sgt Raimi (Sam Raimi), Chris Romero (George, obviously), JC Hooper (named for both James Cameron and Tobe Hooper).

Cynthia joins team nerd after uberjock fratbro trips the physically disabled JC. JC is my favorite character, he’s picked on for his physical abilities but he’s more self assured than Chris, he’s a great wing man, he stares down the cool kids, he doesn’t take shit from anyone and he lights a brain slug on fire without hesitation. Shortly after Cynthia recounts seeing a zombie’s head explode and slugs crawl out to Chris, JC gets turned. But instead of turning murderous: he fries himself and his brainslugs, before he does he leaves a tape for Chris explaining brainslugs, telling him that he loves him and good luck with Cynthia.

Meanwhile, the cops are zombie hunting. Det. Cameron confronts the original with a venomous, “I already killed you. You son of a bitch I already killed you.”

Chris meets up with the Detective and gives him the news. Then they head out to the homecoming party with flame throwers, Chris hands Cynthia a 12 gauge saying “Hold this, you’ll feel better.” Then they switch and Chris shoots and Cynthia lights ’em up. Going from near catatonic to certified badass with relative ease.

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The ensuing scenes are GOLD. Flame throwers made out of cigarettes and hairspray, running a zombie over with lawn mower, “It’s Miller Time”, infected science experiments. Nothing groundbreaking here, but damn if this isn’t enjoyable as all hell.

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Movie Review: Grave Halloween (2013)

This film market itself as “J-Horror” despite the fact that it is a SyFy Original and has a predominantly white cast (even though it is set in Japan, which is another topic entirely). The main character, Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb, who has set herself to be a big time B-Horror babe with roles in Wrong Turn 4, the three-breasted woman in Total Recall, upcoming film Wolves and a recurring role on “Bitten”) sets a college thesis project with classmates at her college in Japan (full of white people) to find where her mother committed suicide and perform an exorcism. This will be filmed. And she intends to perform an exorcism. Their journey lead them into the famous “Suicide Forest”

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We start out with vague dreams and memories from Maiko’s youth, she is on a swing and her mother turns into… pretty much the girl from The Ring. Or The Grudge. Basically, we have been down this road before.

Maiko and co., a crush, a blonde BFF and a trusty camera man come a long. They are followed by 3 bully/prankster types who disrespect “Suicide Forest” and meet the most grisly of demises… but so do others… even if their intentions were good. And that’s what ruins it, after one prankster steals a watch on the trail: we all know that they are going to get axed. But Maiko’s posse …well, it could be said that they are voyeurs, that they are interlopers, that they are exploiting the suffering of others in the name of academia; all of those things are amoral and accurate BUT that was not set in the guidelines by their cliche and stereotypical guide, Jin (Hiro Kanagawa, Godzilla, “Almost Human”).

The gore is moderate, the tension is weak, the main characters are over all well developed and relatable. But still the more pressing of matters is that the “suicide forest” is a real thing.

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Aokigahara at the base of Mt. Fuji was the setting for a novel, published in 1960 that featured a pair of lovers committing suicide, it started before then but instances of suicides and deaths have increased alarmingly since. It is said that people go there to contemplate life and death and that those who have passed permeate the trees.

Aokigahara is also the setting of Matthew McConaughey’s next film.

Ehhh, thanks for the lesson: but this only gets a 2 out of 5.

Male Objectification Monday: Tommy Helm

Ink Master is one of those shows I always seem to catch repeats of while I am on my lunch break. Somehow Ink Master Season One captured my attention briefly away from X-Files. Mostly because of this guy:

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And his rivalry with fellow contestant Shane O’neill. The two finalists hurled insults. The tore up each others work. They bragged and boasted, but they always could back it up. The rivalry between the two was unmatched by any other contestants. They argued like feuding siblings, but hardly found it worth fucking with the other contestants. Underneath the venomous words in their big talk they showed a lot of mutual respect.

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look at him, looking like a badass James Bond

And that’s true class.

For the Season 1 finale, there was a surprise client for him to tattoo. He got a beautiful blonde woman and he turned to her and said “Well, this is a pleasant surprise” with swagger and unparalleled confidence. He nailed the tattoo.

But Shane was dubbed the Ink Master with Tommy standing by his side in second place.

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And we’re talking about a contest where $100,000 dollars is on the line. Where fame and fortune are the prizes.

But when it came down to it he shook Shane’s hand and congratulated him.

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No whining, no bitterness, no excuses and no bullshit.

All class.

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check out http://artbytommy.com/ for his amazing work.

PS- He did win fame and fortune (although not the grand prize): he got his own show “Tattoo Nightmares” about covering up bad tattoos which has been going strong for 4 seasons.